Part 2 — The making of the film: Silver Skies — or what it really takes to be a Film Director
Here’s me on the set of “The Good Wife.” I just finished my 16th episode of this intense show, one of the best on network television. This show, these writers, Robert and Michelle King, these producers, this cast led by the sublimely talented, loyal Julianna Margulies, and this crew have all changed my life. Made my life better in every way possible. It’s truly a blessing that I have been given the opportunity to direct this show from the first season, now in it’s seventh year. It really is a gift.
Not only this, but considering that I am a female director in a male-dominated profession, it makes me even more blessed. And grateful. About 14 percent of the directors in television are women. See how lucky I am? Of course I work my ass off, but gratitude comes easy in the face of this hard reality.
In spite of all these amazing facts, nothing comes close to creating my own movie. I’m a filmmaker. And while I absolutely love helping others with their dreams, they are still not my dreams. I’m happy to be helping other artists realize their vision, their stories and their characters, but they are not mine.
Nothing beats creating a new world, inhabited by my own characters and details. My own vision that reflects what’s in my heart. Spending an hour and a half to two hours in a dark theatre, enveloped in a story that has the power to change me forever, that is what I live for. That is my heart. And that is why I have to make movies like Silver Skies.
I often speak to students in various film schools. The first thing I tell them is that if they can imagine themselves doing anything else with their lives besides directing — then they should go and do that thing. Don’t direct. Rule Number Three: Do not become a director unless it’s the only thing you can imagine yourself doing on this planet. It’s too hard. It takes over your life. Almost nothing else matters. That’s the real blessing — and the curse.
Getting back to Part 2 of my journey with the making of Silver Skies.
I was at The MacDowell Colony. For four impactful weeks, I lived among well-respected writers, painters, artists. I showed my first movie Acts of Worship to the other residents one night. It was a great screening. Based on their response, I decided to do a reading of a few scenes of my new script Silver Skies. I went to a thrift store, bought some clothes that reflected the characters, and asked people to read different parts. I found this bright colored jump suit. A wonderful writer Joan Brumberg put it on, became the character of Ethel, and the excitement of realizing this new world got my heart pumping. It was a fun evening, very well received. I left MacDowell Colony with my first draft and enthusiasm and hope. The hope was that it wouldn’t take as long to make my second movie as it did my first movie. (Well, ten years later…)
I proceeded to send the script out, first to my agent and manager. I got notes from them which I incorporated. I kept re-writing. Rule Number Four: Writing is re-writing. I just hate that, but it’s true. I knew that if I wanted to direct something from my heart, the only way to do that was to write it myself. I wish I was handed fantastic scripts, but I’m not (someday I will be!) I would love to direct a big huge action movie, the next James Bond. No one’s calling me about that (yet). The “great” scripts go to the biggest clients at the agencies. That’s just the game. I’m happy to be in the game. Period. Rule Number Five: Know the rules of the game and be willing to play by them. That’s the reason I generate my own material, because no one’s handing it to me. Someday they will. And I will be ready.
After MacDowell, I’m back at my day job: freelancing as a production coordinator for a production company that does corporate meetings and videos for clients like Astra Zeneca and Pfizer. This company and its owners were always supportive of Acts of Worship, to the point where my work station was my own desk after hours for working on my movie. I could use the xerox machine at night, as long as I supplied my own paper. I copied scripts of Silver Skies all the time, sending them out to any independent film production company or producer that would accept it. All I received were passes, and not even coupled with enthusiasm, because they came in the form of a standard generic rejection letter.
While this was happening, I applied to the John Wells Women and Minority Directing Fellowship. It was a shadow program that my good friend director Katy Jelski told me about. The requirements were that one had to direct a feature film and the program would help with transitioning to TV. Great, a new possibility!
It was all the hope I had. Still angry and bitter from Acts of Worship not being showed a multiplex near you…I was even more pissed to be sitting at my day job. So this fellowship gave me the hope that I may have a shot at making a living as a director. That was the dream.
(I am living the dream…but the dream keeps getting bigger. That’s what is supposed to happen to us all. kathleen sheehan, thanks for turning me onto Medium to keep me writing! Part 3 to this dream coming soon in the next chapter…)